How do you feel?
Writing a first draft can be one of the most daunting parts of writing. If you have plans, ideas, and notes you can feel prepared and yet also inadequate next to the task of actually getting the words on paper. I’ve certainly experienced this feeling on more than one occasion. Part of the problem is how you think about a story, having thousands of words, and how can you ever hope to write thousands of words. The other part of the problem, in my experience, is trying too hard to rigidly adhere to the plan in the false assumption that you can transfer a short plan or outline exactly into a story of many more words, scenes, and events than you have planned for. In a story the camera has zoomed in on events, whereas sometimes when you plan you cover what happens, but not how it happens.
Flexibility is a key aspect
Some minds find flexibility more difficult than others, and if you’re on the autism spectrum as I am, it can be especially difficult. Lack of flexibility can stifle imagination, cause dialogue to be flat, cause descriptions to be overly long, pedantic, and boring; lead to spelling out what is obvious to the reader, adding too many adverbs or long-winded sentences; creating two dimensional or scripted characters without understanding feelings and communication, or ask too many questions. Some of us who are interested in the minutiae of language focus obsessively on those parts and forget about the bigger picture of the story, and what makes a story interesting.
It can be scary knowing there are all these mistakes to make and things to overlook, but in the first draft you cannot worry about these things. The first things you need to worry about are your ideas, your sources of inspiration, and getting the writing down on paper or screen.
Imagination and sources of inspiration
If your imagination is struggling, and it may be, then you’re going to need to take care of yourself. A story can’t be built on thin air: it needs nurturing, and to nurture the story you need to allow yourself to grow as a person. This involves taking a break from writing. You’re allowed to take a break. You will find the internet awash with suggestions about a writing routine and pumping out a thousand or more words a day to create a ‘writing routine’ and it is good advice if your imagination is going at the speed of a rollercoaster, but if it isn’t then continuing to write may be counter productive.
Without a ready imagination your story will thin out, run out of fuel, and you’ll end up wondering which part of your story you actually liked. You’ll want to start again, and this leads to frustration and writing obsession. I don’t think many fantastic stories were fuelled by writing obsession – mine weren’t.
First, write a list down of the things you like to do, and which define you as a person. Do these things as regularly as you want, but ensure you are doing these things. Typically, engaging in creative hobbies is a good recommendation if you want to open your imagination and form your own ideas. Reading, watching films you enjoy, playing board games, going to the cinema or theatre can help because you’re already absorbing and journeying through creative works by others; or having interesting experiences or trips out can help, especially if this is what you enjoy. Follow your enjoyment, and your enjoyment will follow you when you write.
A good strong imagination will help give you fuel for ideas, and that’s when you need to start planning or drafting those ideas; expressing them to understand them. This will help you on your way to writing the first draft.
Writing the first draft
When you’re ready to write a first draft, you should not pressure yourself with word targets or time-based targets if you do not work well this way. They’re good as motivation systems for some people, or for those who don’t have a lot of time to write and are doing their best to squeeze it in, but not everybody will work well this way.
Personally, I work better with the pressure and the expectation turned off. Enjoying writing the first draft is important to me, and expressing that first draft is important. It should not matter if it’s not perfect on the first draft. Few writers can write a well written first draft because they are focusing on getting the writing down, which is what you should be doing at this stage. Express your idea in words, and keep going; keep expressing it. You’ll see it grow into characters and situations that reflect your own thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Parts of it may conform to the plan and parts of it may not but it’s not time to look at it now; it’s time to get it down.